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Fowles vs. Dickens

Fowles vs. Dickens

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Published by: boier_motoc on Feb 21, 2011
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The Victorian novel: a comparative study of Dickens’s Great Expectations and Fowles’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman

Victorian literature was produced during the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901) and it was considered a bridge between the romantic-era works of the previous century and what would become the literature of the newly industrialized world of the twentieth century. It is characterized by a strong sense of morality, and it frequently champions the downtrodden. While it is often equated with prudishness and oppression, Victorian literature is also known for its attempts to combine imagination and emotion with the neoclassical ideal of the accessibility of art for the common person. Charles Dickens is considered to be the most prolific 19th Century author of short stories, plays, novellas and novels. Dickens became was highly acclaimed for his remarkable characters, his mastery of prose in the telling of their lives, and his depictions of the social classes, mores and values of his times. Some considered him the spokesman for the poor, for he definitely brought much awareness to their plight, the downtrodden and the have-nots. His most famous novel, Great Expectations, is both a bildungsroman and a commentary on many social issues including, but not limited to, prison reform, the monarchical system, and public education. Most prominently critiqued however, would be the common Victorian gentleman, and this achieved through the character of Pip. Through Pip the reader can surmise that Dickens was extremely disenfranchised with, if not also critical of, both the behaviour and the image of the Victorian gentleman. During this Age, a true gentleman was characterized by his virtues and not his gentility. He was capable of maintaining a delicate balance between social and moral features. He was a noble and honorable man – a man who had fine ethical values. In following Pip's arc throughout the novel one can get a collective sense of how Dickens perceives the "gentleman" of his day. As Pip comes to understand the social hierarchy it is immediately his desire to escape his class standing. His escape from the lowermiddle class is made possible by the will of a convict. A man put down by Victorian society escapes and creates a fortune to bestow upon Pip. Pip then loses sight of what's important in life, accumulates debt, and ultimately finds himself unable to live the life of a Victorian elitist. Pip is rescued by Joe, a representative of the lower working class, and lives his life as a middle-class working man. At every turn Dickens praises the lower-class and seems to critique the elitist. Pumblechook is made to be a fool, Havisham is destroyed, and Pip becomes completely disagreeable to the reader. It is certainly a narrow look at a novel


Characterization becomes. 2 . loyalty. By connecting the theme of social class to the idea of work and selfadvancement. Setting is always an important component in any story. Dickens explores the class system of Victorian England. Dickens is far less interested in creating realistically named characters that in using characterizations as a means for furthering his social critique. Before Pip achieves wealth. he is a great admirer of Joe and can overlook his uneducated speech patterns filled with contractions and words that run together. The fanciful names that Dickens typically gave to his characters are often used as ammunition by those critics who say his characterizations are shallow. the key to understanding what kind of social critique Dickens was forming. That same language comes to be seen in counterpoint once Pip achieves his riches and begins to see Joe in a new light. then.containing many serious and equally scathing critiques of Victorian society. Dickens subtly reinforces the novel's overarching theme of ambition and selfimprovement. The use of words is very precise in Great Expectations and it reflects the setting. The use of language is vitally important to understanding the social critique that Dickens is working toward. What better name for a greedy group of people than the Pockets? It is anything but coincidental that Dickens provides names for characters that match their personality. Throughout Great Expectations. but rather the grand panorama which envelops not only Pip. and inner worth. In his novel. The theme of social class is central to the novel's plot and to the ultimate moral theme of the book—Pip's realization that wealth and class are less important than affection. It is not just speech patterns and language development that serves to turn characters themselves into larger critiques of the time. ranging from the most wretched criminals (Magwitch) to the poor peasants of the marsh country (Joe and Biddy) to the middle class (Pumblechook) to the very rich (Miss Havisham). of course. Dickens also uses setting in relation to his characters to define them against the milieu of the story. but Dickens actually employs setting almost as a means of drawing out the deeper mysteries of his characterization in order to more fully define how his characters relate to his social concerns. Dickens used characterization as means to advance certain social ideas. He becomes ashamed of him and that shame is foremost represented by Joe's backward language. the social condition and the family background of the characters. but the representation of the "gentleman" is a glaring comment on the social misconception on the value of a man. What Dickens is interested in by the story he tells in Great Expectations isn't the psychological drive behind Pip's life. but indeed all the characters.

On one level. He reveals his personal disdain for Victorian England as well as his espousal of existentialism. the omniscient narrator explicitly informs the readers that he ‘live[s] in the age of […] Roland Barthes”. The conventional Victorian romance novel frequently ended in marriage. the hypocrisy of professing piety and then viciously judging others. The Victorian novelists operated from an unreflected position.Victorian novel adopting a contemporary perspective. By reflexively narrating a story set in Victorian England. allowing for the numerous possible conclusions explained in my introduction.In the 20th century. the novelists permitted themselves to artificially impose definitive endings on their works. unnatural views people held about sex. sexual and literary conventions. Fowles subverts these Victorian conventions by investing his characters with the freedom to make their own decisions. Fowles' technique is to take a ready-made 1860s plot and tell it from a 1960s point of view. John Fowles’s novel The French Lieutenant’s Woman brought to the public attention the parody of Victorian social. this yields an engaging parody of the Victorian novel—with chatty narrator. the characters of a novel were particularly shaped by the will of the author. digressions. Therefore. the author-narrator is the agent of the convergence of the modern and the Victorian modalities who tells the story of the respectable Charles Smithson and his involvement with a “fallen woman”. From his vantage point. in Chapter 13. Fowles projects his consciousness onto a period rife with dogmatism and unreflected beliefs. He is contemporary in his perspective on the earlier period and in the chronological scope of his reference. and more specifically the provincial town of Lyme Regis. it is implied that a state of perpetual marital bliss ensues. In the Victorian Age. it is easier to see the shallow propriety of being a “gentleman”. the bedroom. and the oppressive. Fowles’s novel can be regarded as an example of a pseudo. and thus there is nothing left to narrate. the authority they accorded themselves allowed no room for alternative possibilities. Indeed. In this novel. whatever actually happened was regarded as the only possibility that could have happened. 3 . Sarah Woodruff. After the marriage. The technique also enables Fowles to compensate for some of the Victorian novel's omissions and evasions. subplots involving cockney servants and narrative juggling. Fowles shows how unexamined lives can have such non-existent foundations. Fowles parodies the Victorian novel and the way authors treated themselves as puppeteers. Every event in the novel was ineluctable—out of the myriad of possibilities. particularly that dark side of the Victorian moon.

he provides three different endings and invites the reader to choose which he likes best: one is a conventional Victorian ending in which the hero represses his desire for the fatal woman and returns to his fiancée. following the dictates of their own drives to selfrealization rather than the morals imposed by society. To illustrate the point. Through the manipulation of Victorian plot structures. in one version. that the novel’s realism is a deception. 4 . and the two main characters. as well as the pseudoVictorian style of many passages." namely those of his characters. and that the reader is complicitous. The result is an undermining of the kind of narrative authority the Victorian novel took for granted. he ultimately gets Sarah. however. He proclaims that the novelist's first principle is the "freedom that allows other freedoms to exist. less conclusive but more believable alternate endings. The most notorious aspect of the narrator’s subversion of the novel is his refusal to bring the story to a conventional end." Fowles takes his stand next to Godot. While the Victorians believed that "the novelist stands next to God. it is thoroughly of its time: the plot and setting are Victorian. The French Lieutenant's Woman reveals itself to be an affectionate parody of novels such as those of Hardy and the “sensation” writers like Wilkie Collins and Mary Braddon. Both of these two endings involve his disgrace and the loss of his fiancée.The English novelist gives to his narrator a self-consciousness about his activity similar to that which Thackeray gives his “puppeteer” persona in “Vanity Fair”. think and act in a twentieth-century way. and then two variations of the results of his not doing that. More directly than Thackeray. and in one he does not. the girl of his dreams. And yet. then backs up and unwinds them again in tangled. This ending has a kind of authority that the other two do not. Instead. especially Sarah. he twice ties up his narrative strands in tidy traditional endings. They are existentialists before their time. Fowles’s narrator admits that knowledge is limited. but the novel's narrative stance is deliberately self-referencing and metafictional.

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